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Re: [Pali] about Mount Meru

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  • Ven. Pandita
    Dear Nich ... I would answer at the end of this message. ... Agreed. ... No need to argue against this. But it should be noted that we are discussing the
    Message 1 of 39 , May 1, 2005
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      Dear Nich

      You wrote:

      > To quote Sayadaw U Silananda, "The structure of Buddhist doctrine
      > ....is consistent and self-contained, .... The Doctrine is just like a
      > set of dominoes. The whole pile would crumble if you try to remove a
      > single item.
      > To me, this begs the question: But what is Buddhist doctrine?

      I would answer at the end of this message.

      > My motivation in learning Paali is to put my ear as close as possible
      > to the mouth of the Buddha. But however expert in Paali I may become
      > it doesn't seem likely I could acheive this aim by a wholly uncritical
      > reading of the Tipi.tika.


      > As seems generally accepted by scholars, not all palm leaves have the
      > same critical weight, not all parts of the canon were created equal,
      > not all suttas, or parts of suttas are equally as old, or have the
      > same degree of authenticity.

      No need to argue against this. But it should be noted that we are
      discussing the doctrinal framework of the whole Theravada school --- not
      a particular manuscript or sutta.

      > (I wonder what might be the state of Paali studies now if the great
      > machine of the Western universities that have been busy digging up
      > papyri and raiding monastic libraries to produce critical editions of
      > the Latin corpus had put their efforts into Paali.)

      Actually, this is an off-topic subject (That is why you have chosen to
      put it into brackets, I presume) But an interesting one still. So I
      would give my view at length in a later post.

      > I was interested to hear Prof. Gombrich saying in a talk to the London
      > Buddhist Society's Summer School that he thought that the
      > Visuddhimagga was quite remarkable in that in all it's long exposition
      > of the Dhamma he could not think of one single contradiction. The
      > suttas, however, were full of contradictions. (I hope I've quoted him
      > reasonably accurately, certainly the gist is correct.)
      > This statement seems inconsistent with Sayadaw U Silananda's above
      > quote, depending on how you interpret "doctrine".

      Prof. Gombrich has failed to mention another part of Pali literature
      that is the "consistency supreme". It is Abhidhamma Pitaka. I don't
      remember the exact words but Mrs. Iggleden, the late President of PTS,
      has remarked in one of her books that such a big work without a single
      contradiction inside should be the work of the Buddha himself (excepting
      Kathaavatthu, of course).

      Setting aside the question whether Abhidhamma is the Buddha's authentic
      words or not, I can certify its consistence in the treatment of its
      subject-matter. And the final part of Abhidhamma, Pa.t.thaana, is
      especially wonderful.

      But why has Prof. Gombrich failed to mention it? Probably because he
      cannot say it from his experience. After Mrs. Rhys David calling
      Abhidhamma Pi.taka "a valley of dry bones", the West has lost interest
      in Abhidhamma, with a few exceptions such as Mrs. Iggleden. Students of
      Buddhism are generally content with the "introduction" ---
      Abhidhammatthasa'ngaha; few would go onto the original canon itself.
      There are various reasons for the neglect of Abhidhamma Pi.taka, and one
      is the seeming lack of historical evidence as regards its authenticity.

      Now about suttas full of contradictions. I would like to remind you that
      the Buddha was a public teacher, preacher, and religious leader for 45
      years of his life. His suttas were delivered to various audiences of
      various sizes, ranging in number from a single listener to thousands.
      His purpose is to teach them, and to train them, in the path of
      liberation as per their abilities and attitudes. He might choose to give
      direct answers to their questions, or interpret the questions in his own
      way, or he might simply refuse to answer. As a saying in Burma goes, "A
      teacher is a dancer who has to dance to the tune played by his student"
      --- different tunes will result in different types of dancing. He had
      different facets for different people.

      Given such a situation, it is all the more natural that suttas have
      contradictions. If they were to be all consistent, the Buddha might have
      been a human computer, who acted on the principle of "Rubbish in,
      rubbish out", a teacher who could not help those of lower intelligence
      asking foolish questions.

      In my opinion, all these contradictions are valid evidence of the
      authenticity of suttas, of the fact that they have been little affected
      by the tweaking of the posterity. I would rather have been doutful if
      suttas were all consistent, for it might have been a sign of artificiality.

      Then how should they be understood by those of posterity like us?

      Here comes in the role of Abhidhamma. If you look at the commentaries,
      whether of Vinaya or Suttanta, you would find that the commentators
      would call in Abhidhammic concepts whenever really subtle points are to
      be expounded. Moreover, Abhidhamma is the ultimate arbiter as regards
      all seeming contradictions in suttas; you would find them explained away
      by the commentators using Abhidhamma.

      Now the West has rejected Abhidhamma on historical grounds, and treated
      commentaries as almost "irrevelant" to the Buddha's real intent. Then
      they have only one alternative left --- to live with contradictions. You
      must reap what you have sown.

      Now it is time to answer your question "What is the Buddhist doctrine?"
      My answer would be that the doctrinal system of Theravada school has
      been fixed from the time of Buddhaghosa. It is the framework that I mean
      by "the Buddhist doctrine" here.However, I don't mean that the doctrine
      had been in flux before Buddhaghosa; only it is very difficult to
      discuss it since we have lost all ancient Sinhala commentaries, on which
      Buddhaghosa and other commentators' works are based.

      Here I must note on the different attitudes of western scholars, and the
      Theravada tradition. The former's approach is strictly logical; they
      would tend to reject anything not based on valid evidence.

      On the contrary, the latter's attitude is similar to that of law as
      regards the citizens; "everyone is innocent unless proved to the
      contrary". In our case, anything in suttas is authentic unless
      definitely proved to the contrary. The reason is the same as in law.
      Just as law cannot afford to let one innocent person suffer even if ten
      rogues walk free on account of its laxity, we cannot afford to reject
      one authentic idea even if we have to live with ten interpolations.

      > So if I strayed far enough from satipa.t.thana to ask, my first
      > question mightn't be: Does Mt Meru exist or not in some shape or form,
      > but what is the critical weight for this part of the Tipi.taka, how
      > likely is it to an embellishment by a scribe with an overactive
      > imagination sweating over his palm leave.

      If you look for the string "*meru*" on CSCD, you would find that it
      occurs 10 times in the canon, notably once each in Suttanipaata and
      Mijjhimanikaaya. It means that you just cannot reject it out of hand, or
      blame a poor scribe, whether you like it or not.

      with metta

      Ven. Pandita
    • Stephen Hodge
      Dear Alex, ... I suspect that Shangri-la is fake Tibetan, the notion being based on or inspired by the Tibetanized version of the myth of Shambhala. The -la
      Message 39 of 39 , May 18, 2005
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        Dear Alex,

        > We are intrigued about this name/meme re-injection from East to West
        > and back to East. There may be modern references which predate the
        > book. However, is anyone aware of an earlier origin on the name? Is it
        > purely fictional or derived from another term (perhaps Shambhala?).

        I suspect that Shangri-la is fake Tibetan, the notion being based on or
        inspired by the Tibetanized version of the myth of Shambhala. The "-la" in
        Shangri-la is probably the Tibetan word for a mountain valley, but not in
        the case of the "la" at the end of Shambhala.

        I previously mentioned that the true location of Shambhala should be sought
        in western Orissa, but the place I intended to designate is Sambhalpur
        according to modern spelling. In medieval religious documents the place is
        also called Sambhola or Sambalaka, located along the upper Orissan reaches
        of the River Mahanadi. It is even mentioned by Ptolomy in his Geography as
        Sumelpur and Sambolaka. Carefuly sifting through the evidence, one can also
        hypothesize that the famed tantric land of Uddiyana / Oddiyana was the
        general name for the whole of that area, with Shambhala forming the
        westernmost portion. Any placing of Shambhala in Central Asia or elsewhere
        is a product of the later mythologized version of Shambhala.

        Best wishes,
        Stephen Hodge
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